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The 




Alger Hiss 

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Ne\£ Evidence Rekindles 
An “Old Debate 

,',V By Jeffrey A. Frank 

Washington Post Staff Writer 



Whether Alger Hiss was guilty of 
spying for the Russians was one of 
the longest-running arguments of 
the Cold War era — and perhaps the 
only one still on the table. For those 
whoVe come late, it is difficult to ex- 
plain’ the passionate intensity that 
surrounds the episode. But the Hiss 
case has divided and mystified 
Americans for nearly 50 years, en- 
listing new generations in a debate 
that has become almost purely his- 
torical. 

In recent years, it has also be- 
come something of a Halloween 
play,- a cloak-and-dagger story rising 
from’ its Cold War grave. Just a year 
ago, Gen. Dmitri Volkogonov, the 
Russian historian and archivist, as- 
serted that Soviet intelligence ar- 
chives. revealed no proof that Hiss 
had ever spied for the Soviet Union. 
Volkogonov later conceded that his 
conclusion was based on incomplete 
evidence, but the caldron was 
stirred again — and Hiss and his sup- 
porters declared that he’d been ex- 
onerated. 

The latest round began earlier 
this month in a paper delivered at 
See HISS, B4, CoL 1 



B4 Friday, October 29, 1993 

Alger Hiss 

HISS, From B1 

New York University by the Hungarian histori- 
an Maria Schmidt. Schmidt reported that an 
.American defector, Noel Havilland Field, had 
. incriminated Hiss in various statements made 
to Hungarian secret police. Field had gone to 
Eastern Europe in 1949, only to find himself 
suspected of being a double agent — and jailed. 
; After his release, he was questioned by Buda- 
pest officials; in one interrogation transcript 
found in newly public files, Field reportedly said 
that he’d realized in 1935 that Hiss was a spy; 

“Hiss . . . wanted to recruit me for espionage 
for the Soviet Union. I did not find the right an- 
. swer and carelessly told him that I was already 

working for the Soviet intelligence I knew, 

from what Hiss told me, that he was working 
for the Soviet secret service.” 

The testimony is persuasive to many because 
’ . the Fields and Hisses were social friends in the 
1930s and Field had no obvious motive for mak- 
ing up such things. Hiss himself says that he 
and Field were drawn together by common 
' world policy concerns and attended meetings of 
the Foreign Policy Association. “Both he and I 
were naturally aware of the Nazi threat,” Hiss, 
who is 88, said in a telephone interview. But 
Hiss says he rejects what Field said; “He was 
still under duress, he was not a free man. If he 
. didn’t please them— well, there’s a quotation 
from Noel Field’s adopted daughter, who says, 
‘After torture you’ll say anything.’ ” 

Others, however, point out that there is not 
much new in the Field statements — that a lot of 
it had come to light in Flora Lewis’s 1965 book 
about Field, “Red Pawn,” as well as in Allen 
Weinstein’s “Perjury; The Hiss-Chambers 
Case,” published in 1978. What is new is the 
sudden availability of detail from the Hungarian 
records — which has prompted historians like 
Weinstein to call for their quick release. 




Alger Hiss denies accusations in 
1948 that he was a Russian spy. 




The Washington Post 




REUTER 

Alger Hiss with his wife, Isabel, following a 
news conference in October 1992. 

But whether the material is revelatory or fa- 
miliar depends very much on one’s original 
stance. Thus, one researcher believes that what 
Field said is a “smoking gun” while lawyer 
Ethan Klingsberg, writing in the current Nation 
magazine, suggests that it was coerced testimo- 
ny and warns about the “file fever” stemming 
from release of more and more Communist-era 
archives. In other words, as is so often the case 
in the Hiss affair, one tends to believe what one 
wants. 

Standing by His Story 

For connoisseurs of American political dra- 
ma, the Hiss case was always boffo. For start- 
ers, its casting was impeccable: Hiss, the New 
Dealer friend of John Foster Dulles, State De- 
partment official and president of the Carnegie 
Endowment for International Peace, was ac- 
cused of being a spy. Not only that, he was ac- 
cused by Whittaker Chambers, who was in 
many ways the mirror image of Hiss: a lapsed 
Communist, a confessed liar, a man with bad 
teeth and a disreputable appearance. He was 
also a Time senior editor and the translator of 
“Bambi.” 

But if Chambers was an unappealing witness 
in contrast to the dapper Hiss, his testimony 



was supported by a great deal of tangible and 
circumstantial evidence: documents he’d kept 
in a pumpkin patch (the “pumpkin papers”) that 
he said he’d received from Hiss for transmis- 
sion to the Soviets; documents that appeared 
to be typed on Hiss’s typewriter; the gift to 
Chambers of a Ford “with a sassy little trunk" 
from Hiss, a man who'd sworn that he barely 
knew Chambers. 

Chambers’s testimony was given to the 
House Committee on Un-American Activities, 
whose members included Rep. Richard M. 
Nixon — and whose career was launched by the 
case. For researchers, the Hiss matter became 
an obsession rivaling the Sacco-Vanzetti affair 
or, for a later generation, the Kennedy assassi- 
nation. Eventually, Chambers’s accusation led 
to two trials, one of which resulted in 1950 in 
Hiss’s conviction for perjury — lying about re- 
ceiving secret documents from Chambers. 
Hiss served four years in prison. 

Among the witnesses at Hiss’s trial was 
Hede Massing, who had once been married to 
a Soviet operative in the United States. Mass- 
ing said that she’d met Hiss through the 
Fields. Allen Weinstein reported that Massing 
told the FBI that she’d bantered with Hiss 
about trying to lure Noel Field into spying. In 
one of the Hungarian transcripts. Field recalls 
that Massing was angry at him for his loose 
lips. “I received a stem rebute from her,” he 
recalls, according to Maria Schmidt. 

For his part, Hiss for 40 years has publicly 
and consistently proclaimed his innocence. He 
conceded that he had known Chambers under 
the name “George Crosley,” but he denied all 
wrongdoing: He had never been a Communist, 
never committed espionage, hadn’t a clue as to 
why Chambers was saying these things. He 
said he had been framed by McCarthyite — or 
J. Edgar Hooverite — forces and insisted that 
the evidence against him was concocted by his 
political enemies. Even the typewriting, he 
said, was forged. 

Hiss still stands by this account and says: “It 
all goes back to the story that Hede Massing 



told at my trial, and that she told to a lot of 
people before. I don’t think anybody who 
knows anything about Hede Massing would 
lend credibility to her story.” He argues that 
Field was simply trying to impress his Hungar- 
ian captors with names of American contacts. 

Flora Lewis, the columnist and Field biogra- 
pher, disagrees. ‘The first account of the con- 
nection with Hiss came from Hede Massing, 
and I had every reason to believe her. It fit 
with everything else.” 

Writing in the New York Times, Cham- 
bers’s biographer, Sam Tanenhaus, also ar- 
gues that what Schmidt found in Hungary cor- 
roborates the Massing testimony. It might, he 
said, be the "most important of all because it 
contradicts the contents of a letter Mr. Field 
sent to Mr. Hiss in 1957 in which he offered to 
make a public repudiation of Mrs. Massing’s 
testimony.” Schmidt, he writes, “found several 
drafts of the letter, some of them dating as 
early as 1955, each doctored by Mr. Field’s 
superiors in Budapest.” 

Lewis says that Hiss once showed her let- 
ters from Field and, like Tanenhaus, she has 
her doubts. Were they written in sincerity to 
assert Hiss’s innocence? “I don’t believe that 
for a minute.” 

Field was released from a Hungarian prison 
in 1954. Lewis, who tried without success to 
interview him in Budapest, recalls going to his 
residence and finding that “it was quite a good 
house, with a gate, and he sent the maid out, 
but refused to see me. . . . We exchanged 
notes.” 

Field died in 1970 at age 60, and in a brief 
autobiographical fragment (quoted by Wein- 
stein), recalled his leftward drift in the New 
Deal era: T watched and sometimes took part 
in radical meetings and demonstrations, sought 
contact with left-wingers of different shade 

[while working for the State Department] 

A dual life, reflecting a dual personality strug- 
gling to overcome the conflict between old and 
new loyalties.” 



The Battle Goes On 

In the case of Alger Hiss, no one ever 
changes sides. For decades, the rightward 
New Republic has called Hiss guilty, while the 
leftish Nation has argued his innocence. When 
Weinstein’s “Perjury” was published, it was as- 
sailed by Nation Editor Victor Navasky. When 
Volkogonov’s testimony was first published, it 
was assailed by Chambers biographer Tanen- 
haus, who this month applauded the Maria 
Schmidt findings. 

Hiss’s son, Tony, a writer for the New 
Yorker, wrote a loving piece about his father 
last year when the Volkogonov statement was 
issued. This week he said: ‘Tve never met any- 
one who has a harder time trying to hide any- 
thing than Alger Hiss. He is proud of the fact 
that he was a loyal New Dealer and a believer 
in the founding principles of the U.N. ... I 
once met Laurence Olivier, who I thought was 
the greatest actor in the world. Alger would 
have to be 100 times better.” 

Alger Hiss is also loyally supported by John 
Lowenthal, a former law professor who cam- 
paigned to have Volkogonov issue his declara- 
tion last year. Lowenthal, too, found nothing 
new in the Noel Field statements reported by 
Schmidt. The testimony, he said, “did not con- 
tain any fact or explicit statement which would 
indicate that Alger Hiss was delivering U.S. 
documents to the Soviet Union ” 

Allen Weinstein, who now runs the Center 
for Democracy, sounds as if he has heard it all, 
as perhaps he has. “They stumbled right into a 
controversy that is only of historical interest I 
am happy to say at this point.” 

A smoking gun? “I think it’s a piece of evi- 
dence that has to be corroborate! by seeing 
the actual documents. It’s another bit of cumu- 
lative evidence to add to what we already 
know.” 

Tony Hiss says: “What astonishes me, it’s 
like a curse in a fairy tale. It just won’t go 
away.”